Friday, October 22, 2021

Wakefield Council to launch business start-up and entrepreneur fund to diversify economy

Wakefield Council is set to commit £1m to strengthen the district’s economy by encouraging new high-skill business start-ups.

The Council’s Cabinet will be asked at their meeting next week to approve funding aimed at creating more diverse jobs and improving skill levels and wages.

It will be delivered through the creation of a Co-Investment Fund that will support innovative companies in the early stages of development.

A report to the Cabinet recommended that more detailed work is undertaken to procure a delivery partner.

If agreed, the project would seek match funding from the private sector plus the recruitment of staff including a fund manager.

The report highlighted the issues the district faces compared to averages across the country. These include:

  • An above average number of people in low skill and low-paid work;
  • people with higher level qualifications is well below average;
  • and a low number of businesses are in the knowledge and digital fields.

In particular, the Wakefield district’s employment sector is characterised by high levels of employment in logistics (customer order fulfilment in warehouses). And there are more people working in public administration than is typical in the Leeds City Region.

The Co-Investment Fund aims to address this imbalance by supporting new companies in high-value industries.

Cllr Darren Byford, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Economic Growth and Property, said: “We’re determined to tackle inequalities. The pandemic and the fact that the district has some of the most deprived communities in England means a lot of households already lack resilience.

“And then with changes forecast over the next decade towards automation and digital innovation, it’s clear our residents could be vulnerable to further hardship. We need to do what we can now to prevent such problems from ever happening – and a way to achieve this is by diversifying our local economy.”

It is hoped that the Council’s investment will be match-funded by the private sector from sources including venture capital. The scheme would be expected to last for up to three years and deliver results over a period of five to 10 years.

Investments in companies could range from £60,000 to £100,000 and would require evidence of market traction and proof of concept. This would address the lack of early stage capital for new businesses and support opportunities to increase the educational attainment in the local workforce.

And the funding would tackle inequalities experienced by underrepresented groups, such as BAME employees and female entrepreneurs.

Cllr Byford added: “This scheme could really improve the opportunities for our residents in terms of jobs, skills and training. It will help us expand our economic base while also incentivising private funders to invest in Wakefield and the talent that we have here.”

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